• Books: Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild, Endless War: Hidden Functions of the "war on terror" by David Keen, Capital Vol. 1, Tin Drum by Günter Grass, What is Islam? by Shahab Ahmed, Desiring Arabs by Joseph Massad, Spies, Soldiers and Statesmen by Hazem Kandil, La Condition Humaine by André Malraux, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, Imagined Community by Benedict Anderson, Culture and Imperialism by Edward Said, The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon, The Richness of Life by Stephen Jay Gould, Children of the Alley by Naguib Mahfouz, The Mass Psychology of Fascism by Wilhelm Reich, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1984 by George Orwell, Noli me Tangere by José Rizal, Age of Extremes by Eric Hobsbawm, ذهنية التحريم لصادق جلال العظم, Karl Marx by Francis Wheen, وليمة لأعشاب البحر لحيدر حيدر, Candide by Voltaire, النزعات المادية في الفلسفة العربية الإسلامية لحسين مروة, Listen Little Man by Wilhelm Reich ..
  • Films: Alexanderplatz by Rainer Fassbinder, Clockwork Orange, Apocalypse Now, The Battle of Algiers, films by P. P. Passolini, Persepolis, Midnight Express, 1984, Papillion, Gangs of New York, Sophie Scholl, Life of Brian, Ivan the Terrble, Battleship Potemkine ...

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Crisis in Brazil

The trade unions, if somewhat more active under Dilma, were a shadow of their combative past. The poor remained passive beneficiaries of PT rule, which had never educated or organised them, let alone mobilised them as a collective force. Social movements – of the landless, or the homeless – had been kept at a distance. Intellectuals were marginalised. But not only had there been no political potentiation of energies from below. The style of the material benefactions of the regime created little solidarity. There was no redistribution of wealth or income: the infamously regressive tax structure bequeathed by Cardoso to Lula, penalising the poor to pamper the rich, was left untouched. Distribution there was, appreciably raising the living standards of the least well-off, but it was individualised in form. With the Bolsa Família taking the form of disbursements to mothers of school-age children, this could not have been otherwise. Increases in the minimum wage meant there was an expansion of the number of workers with a carteira assinada, entitling them to the rights of formal employment; but no rise, if anything a decline, in unionisation. Above all, with the arrival of crédito consignado – bank loans at high interest rates deducted in advance from wages – private consumption was unleashed without restraint at the expense of public services, whose improvement would have been a more expensive way of stimulating the economy. Purchase of electronics, white goods and vehicles was fanned (cars through tax incitements), while the water supply, paved roads, efficient buses, acceptable sewage disposal, decent schools and hospitals were neglected. Collective goods had neither ideological nor practical priority. So along with much needed, genuine improvements in domestic living conditions, consumerism in its deteriorated sense spread downwards through the social hierarchy from a middle class besotted, even by international standards, with magazines and malls.
How damaging this has been for the PT can be seen in the fate of housing, where collective and individual needs most visibly intersect. With the consumer bubble came a much more dramatic real-estate bubble, in which vast fortunes were made by developers and construction firms, while the price of housing for the majority of those living in big cities soared, and about a tenth of the population lacked adequate dwellings. From 2005 to 2014, credit for real-estate speculation and construction increased twenty times over; in São Paulo and Rio prices per square metre quadrupled. In São Paulo, average rents increased 146 per cent in 2010 alone. In the same years there were six million vacant apartments, while seven million families were in need of decent housing. Rather than itself increasing the supply of popular housing, the government funded private contractors to build settlements at a handsome profit in exurban areas, charging rents typically beyond the reach of the poorest layer of the population, and stood by as local authorities launched evictions of those who occupied vacant lots. In face of all this, social movements have sprung up among the homeless, and are now the most important in Brazil: these movements are not around, but against the PT.
Lacking any popular counter-force to withstand concerted pressure from the country’s elites, Dilma no doubt hoped, after her narrow re-election, that by beating an economic retreat, with an initial belt-tightening like that of Lula’s first years in power, she could reproduce the same kind of upturn. But external conditions precluded any comparable outcome. The dance of the commodities has gone, and recovery, whenever it comes, is likely to be subdued. It can be argued that, viewed in context, the extent of current difficulties should not be exaggerated. The country is in a severe recession, with GDP falling 3.7 per cent last year, and probably much the same this year. On the other hand, unemployment has yet to reach the levels of France, let alone Spain. Inflation is lower than in Cardoso’s last years, and reserves higher. Public debt is half that of Italy, though given Brazilian interest rates, the cost of servicing it is far greater. The fiscal deficit is below the EU average. All these figures are likely to worsen. Still, so far the depth of the economic hole does not match the volume of ideological clamour about it: partisan opposition and neoliberal fixation have every interest in overstating the country’s plight. But that scarcely reduces the scale of the crisis in which the PT is now floundering, which is not just economic, but political.

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